NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover is digging on the Red Planet’s surface for evidence of running water in the planet’s past – and signs of ancient life on Mars, if it ever existed.
Perseverance is currently exploring an ancient river delta in the interior Jezero Crater and recently collected its ninth Martian rock sample not far from where it originally landed in February 2021, mission team members announced.
“Rock Sample #9 is in the bag! (Well, in the tube, anyway.) My team waited years to approach this river delta and see what it might say about the past life on Mars. This sample may well be a one-way trip to Earth in the future,” the rover’s Twitter account declared (opens in a new tab) Friday (July 8).
Related: Visit the Jezero crater of Mars with this magnificent mosaic of the rover Perseverance (video)
Perseverance has been exploring the 28-mile-wide (45-kilometer) Jezero Crater for more than a year looking for signs that there may have been life on mars at some point in the planet’s ancient past. Scientists believe the crater once housed a lake and a river delta, making it the perfect place to look for signs of ancient life or water on mars. If life ever existed on Mars, rocks in this region of the river delta may show evidence of “molecular fossils” – organic molecules created by ancient living organisms.
“The delta is calling and we have to go! wrote Brad Garczynski, a collaborating student at Purdue University, on the NASA official Perseverance Blog (opens in a new tab) on March 4 as the rover headed for the delta. “If microbial life existed here in the past, this is one of the best places to look for it, as finely layered sludge may have buried and kept a record of that microbial activity.”
To help Perseverance search for these ancient biomarkers and where they might be hiding, the car-sized rover is equipped with 23 different cameras and one wide variety of instruments, comprising an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer, a ground-penetrating radar system, and the SuperCam instrument, which zaps rocks with lasers and then examines the composition of the resulting chemical vapor. A drill is installed at the end of the rover robotic armwhich can move with five degrees of freedom.
Perseverance also carries two built-in microphones, allowing the rover to record the sounds of mars.
In addition to the numerous rock samples that the rover collected, Perseverance innovated by deploying Ingenuity, a small robotic helicopter that helps the rover by searching for new places and objects of interest. Ingenuity led 29 successful flight missions to date, the longest of which was 169.5 seconds.
If all goes as planned, a joint NASA-European Space Agency mission sample return mission will bring the Perseverance samples back to Earth, possibly as early as 2033.